ARA makes history and gets high praise with the first-ever industry-wide international virtual automotive recycling convention & expo.
By Caryn Smith
EDGE 2020 was the automotive recycling industry’s very first virtual international convention and expo, and it was judged as a great success to bring education and connection to auto recyclers who are used to attending multiple in-person meetings during the course of a year. COVID-19 obviously brought a halt to in-person gatherings, yet the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) felt the call to make something happen in light of canceling their ARA Annual 77th Annual Convention & Expo planned in Reno, Nevada.
While it may seem like old news now, it is important to reflect on how important staying connected as an industry is, and how auto recyclers will likely see more of this in the future.
Committed to the Industry
“ARA felt a strong responsibility during the most challenging year in our history to provide access to training, information and a platform to provide networking with other recyclers, industry partners and vendors,” says Sandy Blalock, ARA Executive Director. “ARA Edge 2020 addressed all those needs for our industry and will continue to be an asset to recyclers in the months to come as all training modules will become available to automotive recyclers through ARA University and planned webinars. ARA Edge 2020 met and exceeded all our expectations and more.”
The virtual event, which spanned three days in November, delivered on the quality content that attendees have come to expect from ARA with two keynotes – Jason Redman, ARA’s 2020 Industry Coach and Retired Navy Seal, who helped attendees find that inner instinct to guide them through difficult situations, and Blake Stratton with the Michael Hyatt & Company, who spoke on accomplishing goals with laser focus. A special session on the Collision Industry Disruption Effects on Auto Recycling with Frank Terlep was also a highlight.
The first-ever digital Expo was a unique way to connect vendors with attendees in an actual (virtual) booth, complete with live chat, videos, downloads, and more. The response from almost everyone was that while face to face is always preferred, this was the next best thing to find options to improve an auto recycler’s business.
Altogether, there were 459 registrants, 53 speakers, 35 Expo vendors, 23 sponsors, 20 sessions, 6 tech talks from technology providers, and one amazing virtual facility tour of B&R Auto Wrecking in Corvallis, Oregon. The annual ARA awards were presented via video ceremonies and recipients were able to share the special moment with their teams. Two esteemed recyclers were presented with the ARA Lifetime Achievement Award – Kenny Linder of Linder’s Inc. and Steve Holland of Brandon Auto Services, Inc.; the President’s Award was presented to Paul D’Adamo of RAS; the Member of the Year Award spotlighted Rodney Krawczyk of Gear Six Auto Parts, and the CAR Member of the Year was Wilbert’s, Inc. Two ARA Affiliate Chapters were given special recognition: Vehicle Recycling Forum Association of Poland and SCADA of California.
“Overall, I thought it was great!” notes Shan McMillon of Cocoa Auto Salvage, Inc. and ARA’s 2nd Vice President/Treasurer. “The sessions provided the quality educational content that we have come to expect from an in-person ARA convention. The speakers did a great job adapting to the new format. Although most automotive recyclers have seen record sales and revenue in 2020, there have been many challenges and stressors that we’ve had to adapt to or deal with along the way. It’s important for us to stay connected in new ways until we can be together in person. Support, encouragement, understanding are probably as important to give and receive right now as anything else we could offer as we adjust to this new normal.”
McMillon’s favorite part was the video facility tour. “I thoroughly enjoyed the B&R facility tour. There were so many great nuggets! The one that stood out that I had not heard before was to offer buffing service for a fee. Not all shops want them buffed and others would be willing to pay to have it done. Great idea!”
Other recyclers weighed in.
Jim Butler of Butler’s Auto Recycling, says, “It was a whole new experience and one I’m sure we all will have to start getting used to. We set up a room in our facility just for attending these types of meetings, and it made a big difference in how much benefit we received from the experience. I know that without a place to get away from the daily challenges we all face, this format is much harder to learn in. My favorite session was the final keynote with the Navy SEAL (Jason Redman). He was the best.”
“I believe that some of the learning opportunities were as valuable, if not more so, due to the nature of being able to watch and interact again a second time,” says Greg Condon of Condon’s Auto Parts. “I find a two- or three-day conventions to be overwhelming at times and I lose track of everything I need or want to do when I get home. This way I could digest the information a second time and watch it a few days or few weeks later to revisit it.”
“We have some incredibly smart individuals in our industry that are leading us down a much more professional path for the future,” notes Condon. “We need to embrace technology and change and ready ourselves for the tidal wave of car tech coming in the next 10 years.
We are actively looking to train or hire employees that are more well versed in this space.”
Ryan Ossenkop of Northwest Auto Parts agrees, “ARA really went the extra mile to make it feel more like a traditional convention rather than just online lectures. The facility tour and award ceremonies were very well done. It would have been easy enough for ARA to just schedule some online lectures, have members watch a few videos and call it a convention. But that is not the ARA style, they really took it over the top!”
“I enjoyed being able to watch the sessions live and then being able to watch the ones I had missed,” says Steve Holland, Brandon Auto Services, Inc. “The number of great speakers and topics that were covered were impressive. The Roundtable is my favorite session. So many topics are discussed.”
“EDGE 2020 was done extremely well, and I’ve experienced a few virtual conferences this year,” Courtney Snow of Resource-One, an SES Company, says. “I was impressed with the collaboration among the industry. The chat options and the Edge 2020 App made it so convenient to network with fellow attendees and exhibitors. It also made it very simple to keep track of contacts and conversations in one place. I loved it.”
“I loved it,” says Anthony Wahl of Wahl to Wahl Auto Parts. “It was fairly easy to navigate and most of the sessions I attended were fantastic. It was well worth the money, and was also great saving money on travel and hotel expenses this year. I would like to see more virtual events from ARA. Ultimately, we are all going through the same struggles in this industry, and when we share ideas and work together, we all benefit. The sessions that stood out most for me were the ones on quality control, expectations of body shops, and the inventory acquisition. I found those to be great conversations and very informative.”
Being the Leader
Scott Robertson Jr, ARA president and owner of Robertson’s Auto Salvage echoed Blalock’s sentiments on ARA’s responsibility to the industry.
“One of ARA’s obligations to the recycling industry is education, and the best way to accomplish this is by bringing people together with events,” he says. “I always leave an ARA convention a little smarter than arriving, taking home new ways to improve my business procedures. While 2020 has been a struggle, the staff at ARA pushed harder than ever to host a virtual event to better individual auto recyclers and advance our industry. Our sponsors this year not only made the show a reality, but invested in auto recyclers as well as the entire auto recycling industry. Please thank them for the commitment to your business and our industry.”
Sites are set and hopes are high for an in-person 78th Annual ARA Convention and Expo in Dallas, Texas on November 10-13, 2021, but you can expect more digital programming from ARA throughout 2021 in the form of webinars, Facebook Live, and more. It is a brave new digital world of learning and connecting, so progressive auto recyclers should jump on board and hold on for an exciting ride!
“With our programs and events, ARA is committed to making sure every auto recycler who wants it can access quality information and understand trends that affect their business. We want everyone to be operating at their very best,” assures Robertson.
Caryn Smith is the editor of ARA’s Automotive Recycling magazine and has been covering the industry for almost 25 years.